Jaime Griesemer Interview

We're very pleased to bring you an interview with Jaime Case Griesemer of Bungie Software. He's one of the Great Ones working on Halo right now, formerly a member of the Bungie fan community.

Noctavis: Hi Jaime. First of all, we'd like for you to introduce yourself. We're curious about your job at Bungie. What is your title and what do you do on a typical day?

Jaime: Well, a gaming magazine recently dubbed me Senior Design Editor for the Halo, but I have no idea what that means. I usually think of myself as Senior Designer on the Halo team. Of course, that’s because I am the only designer on the Halo team... Well, I guess that isn’t true. Everyone on the team contributes to the design work, but since I am the only one that lacks any artistic or programming skills, they let me claim to be a designer. <laughs>

Noctavis: You used to run a fansite, correct? How did you land a job at Bungie?

Jaime: Yes, Ferrex and I co-webmastered The Myth Codex, a fairly comprehensive Myth and Myth II site. I met Max, Bungie’s webmaster, through the Codex and since I lived in Chicago they hired me to come in part-time and do some in-house testing on Myth II. I managed to put together a Netmap while I was testing the tools and nobody told me to stop, so I just kept making more maps. I ended up either directly designing or making contributions to all of the multiplayer maps that shipped with the game. That was a great time, I was simultaneously trying to finish Myth II, working a second job and trying to pass finals. I think I slept 2 hours a day for three weeks straight.

After Myth II shipped I just kept coming in to work. I was the Head Bungie.net Admin for a little while, and then Jason [Jones] asked me to join the Halo team. I definitely didn’t anticipate this chain of events when I started my first fansite, The Myth Grimoire. I was planning to go to grad school for theoretical physics, but I’m extremely happy with how things worked out. Bungie is a great company and the work environment here really encourages people to take on as much responsibility as they feel they can handle. I was really lucky to end up here.

Noctavis: Interesting story. Certainly not a typical career-path. Okay, how about some Halo questions?

Jaime: Go for it.

Noctavis: The recent preview in PC Accelerator magazine reports that Halo will be very modifiable. Can you elaborate?

Jaime: Sure. Halo will be very, very modifiable. <laughs> I don’t want to say a lot more than that because I am not sure which of the tools that we are planning on releasing, but Halo is even more flexible than Myth II. The tools we are using are much better, as well. I expect Halo to have a thriving mod community, and I can’t wait to see what people will create. You may need some powerful commercial programs to create new content like models or animations, though, because they are so complex.

Noctavis: Good, Myth II had a lot of great plugins and there are still projects being worked on for it. Mod support is crucial for an online multiplayer game these days. Communication also seems critical to any great teamplay game. What approach is Bungie taking to making this easier?

Jaime: I would actually say that communication isn’t as critical as most people think. In fact, I would go so far as to say communication is a major obstacle to enjoying an action-oriented team game. Talking about providing cover fire to your friend while he runs up and tosses a grenade into a bunker isn’t fun; executing a plan is what is fun. Instead of making communication easier (and therefore requiring that people do it well to play effectively) we are striving to make cooperation in Halo as simple and natural as possible, as well as giving players the tools to coordinate successfully.

This doesn’t mean that we aren’t working on improving communication to make it as easy as possible. We are working on some really unique solutions to the communication problem, but we are also focusing on making most communication superfluous.

Noctavis: Unique solutions means that you can’t talk about them, I take it.

Jaime: Exactly.

Noctavis: Okay. The two games expected to be Halo's primary competitors, TeamFortress 2 and Tribes 2, look to have a limited, bot-driven single player game. A number of people have speculated about the balance between single-player and multiplayer in Halo, many expecting that Halo will be primarily single-player with some added multiplayer capability. What would you say to this?

Jaime: A single-player component is absolutely crucial, even for a multiplayer team game like Halo. It sets the mood for the entire game, it provides context and structure for the multiplayer game and it gives us a chance to explore a much broader range of experiences. No multiplayer-only game could ever capture the sense of heroism and discovery that we are shooting for in our single-player game.

At the same time, our multiplayer game is going to have a lot of depth to it. You can expect both a compelling single player game and an exciting and long-lasting multiplayer experience. If you look at our previous games, the Marathon series and the Myth series, all of them have had extensive single player games as well as excellent multiplayer games, so we are confident that we can do both.

Noctavis: That’s good to hear. Bot-matches just aren’t as satisfying as a fully developed story driven single player game. The trend in multi-player games definitely seems to be moving away from traditional Deathmatch. Can you elaborate on Jason Jones’ historic quote about Deathmatch?

Jaime: <laughs> Well,. every game that involves achieving ends through simulated violence will always contain the basic elements of deathmatch. It’s just unavoidable. The evolution comes when developers create new situations and tactical elements that put deathmatch in a new context. The obvious way to do that is to add strategic goals like Capture the Flag, and while we are definitely doing that in Halo, we are also spending a lot of time adding depth and complexity to the tactical aspects of the game. In Halo, the immediate decisions you make and the tactics you use are just as important as your aim and your ability to dodge.

Noctavis: So how will Halo innovate beyond Capture the Flag?

Jaime: Capture the Flag was a huge step forward from standard Deathmatch because it added an entirely new dimension of tactical gameplay; you had a goal besides carnage to consider. Many developers seem to think that a proliferation of game types is the next step, but strategic game goals just don’t have that much of an effect on moment-to-moment gameplay. I believe that the next step beyond Capture the Flag is adding depth and subtlety on the tactical level and that is where Halo excels. Every movement, every shot, every decision has tactical implications and errors in judgment kill just as fast as bullets.

Noctavis: That’s not a very concrete answer...

Jaime: No, it isn’t. I can’t really go into more detail, but that should be enough to provoke some reckless speculation.

Noctavis: I’m sure it will. Ok, let’s talk about other aspects of online gaming. How do you plan to control antisocial behavior like team-killing and exploitation in multiplayer games?

Jaime: Defective players are just another design problem and since we are taking them into account throughout Halo’s development, we feel their impact on the game can be greatly reduced. You just have to keep them from hiding behind their anonymity, you give players the tools to deal with them and you minimize the damage they can do to the game as a whole. You don’t have to be a sociologist; you just have to treat the problem as thoroughly and seriously as you do every other aspect of the multiplayer game.

It can be a difficult issue, though. You don’t have problems with hackers and cheaters with a console game because it is such a rigid system, but they can be a major problem on the PC because the platform is so flexible. On the other hand, that also allows PC games to be highly customizable through mods and new maps and stuff, so it’s a trade-off. It can be difficult to minimize cheating and keep the game mod-friendly and customizable.

Noctavis: Why don’t you describe your dream game.

Jaime: <laughs> For free? I can’t just hand out my design for a fully-interactive, completely-3D, massively-multiplayer, word-processing simulation game based on the epic of Gilgamesh! People pay good money when you invent totally new genres, you know!

Ok, honestly, as cheesy as it sounds, Halo is my dream game. It’s got everything I have ever wanted to see in a game and it is so much fun to play. I can’t wait until it is unleashed on the world so I can play with everyone.

Noctavis: I’m looking forward to playing it as well. <laughs> Ok, thanks a lot for the interview. Anything you’d like to add?

Jaime: Sure. I just want to thank the community for investing so much time and energy into being excited about Halo. Your enthusiasm is a great encouragement for the team; it makes us work even harder to make Halo the absolute best it can be.

Noctavis: Thanks again, Jaime.

Originally posted on May 10, 2000.